The Devilish Mr Cummings


Ah, Mr Cummings.

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I must confess, my dear reader, a certain level of admiration for our neoteric inquisitor. He has – unbelievably I know – been in post a mere one hundred and seventy-three days. In this time we have experienced the first Johnson administration, famous for suffering fifteen defeats in its first fifteen votes in the commons. Three Brexit riots have had our eyeballs locked onto our phones and televisions. Two MPs have been assaulted, one remaining in the St Charles at this very moment of writing. My condolences to the family of Mrs Swingly. After a stroke of that severity the best she can hope for is a swift and minimally painful death. And of course, there was the flood. The less said about that, the better.

But, onwards and forwards as they say. We all know the happenings. The trials. The snap election. The Tory landslide. Johnson’s second inauguration. Fresh talks of clearing out our treasonous courts. The shortages of carrots and toblerones. The traffic jams. The … “deaths”. Honestly though, if your thyroid is that weak, were you going to last until Easter anyway? The night of regrets.

We know all this. This is England. This is a vibrant, chaotic, exciting, modern country. When have there not been dying people in hospitals? Isn’t that what the NHS is for?

My friends, bafflingly, still believe that this great national democratic exercise was a mistake. The Brexit vote I mean, not the Christmas general election. Of course, once the election results came in they became damp jellies, wailing “this should never have happened” to that too. They claim that we’re the ones who fix the rules, but their words show they have less faith in the great British constitution than we.

How exhausting it must be, to be left-wing. Always to worry about other people’s business. Always losing. They are at odds with the world and they know it. It causes them constant pain. Hilarious!

And they hate none so much as the archetype of the realist worldview, the newly annointed Lord Cummings of Newcastle. The inquisitor. Dominic. My darling. My Dom.

Ah, Mr Cummings.

Mr Cummings is a quite wonderful teller of truths and puncturer of the puffed-up pomposity balloons on the left. He is not a fool you see – their standard line of attack. He quite simply wants to win, and knows what the public want to hear. He doesn’t like the EU, nobody sensible does, and he left. It was the way forward. He won. He did the deed. Whatever the manner of the exit. And he ran a bloody good election campaign.

If Labour wanted to govern they shouldn’t have elected a leader who invited terrorists to speak in parliament. And they need to get it into their thick heads that we’re not all stupid. Some of us simply want different things to them. Some of us see a child or a drunk person fall over and we laugh because we have a sense of humour.

Cummings is an anomaly to them. Inexplicable. “Surely anyone with a degree and a high level of emotional intelligence must be against Brexit” they think. Leaving aside the question of whether Brexit is in the national interest, was fulfilling Brexit in Mr Cummings’ personal interest? Of course it was! Then that is enough! What is the national interest? What do these “progressives” actually want?

Modernity is a tragedy. It is the last gasp for breath of a species that has swum far out of its depth. Perhaps climate change shall be the death of us all. Perhaps some nuclear misfire. If by some fluke this does not happen, we will invent something deadlier. Both the Chinese and American governments are already deploying killer robots. Google and Microsoft and Amazon are each creating vast, unstoppable consciousnesses. Gods that shall enslave us all in their battle for market dominance.

Humanity will not survive into the next Millennium. Might as well pursue our individual wants whilst this crumbling island we’re trapped on sinks into the sea.

Ah, Mr Cummings.

Have you ever wondered why we can’t find aliens? It’s because intelligent life always destroys itself before it achieves the ability to colonise the stars. Not out of choice. Out of the laws of nature.

All we have done is accept this. Myself and Mr Cummings.

Why try to save us, when it is mathematically impossible? What hope is there, really?

Look to the wise Mr Cummings. He needs no friends. No compassion. No love. He is a winner. I look up to him.

One day he shall answer my emails.

The devilish Mr Cummings.

Boris Johnson’s Path to a Majority

Hope drives all sorts of things – belief in God, belief that tomorrow will be better than today, belief that there is a technological or policy solution to humanity’s existential problems. It makes you see yourself at a far off future dinner party, telling your eager friends how you got that amazing job you always wanted. It makes you imagine yourself playing that videogame that’s coming out next year every time you drift off while you’re on the loo. It makes you put two things in your calendar back to back when deep down you know you can’t make it to both.

Hope also has a dark side. When it is disturbed it can pull your heart down. It can exhaust you. It can make you paralysed. Or it can be vengeful. It can get your blood boiling. It can have you gritting your teeth and sharpening your metaphorical claws.

At some point between reading that title up there and reaching the final full stop at the bottom of this article, you may feel hope’s dark side. Hope likes to make promises it can’t keep. The promise that Brexit will be stopped. The promise that the welfare state will be restored. The promise that you will get what you want without working towards it.

When it doesn’t get its way, hope drives you mad.

Boris Johnson could soon call an election. And win it. The strategy is simple – promise Brexit in whatever form and win votes from the Brexit Party, UKIP and some labour. On the economy and other issues he simply needs to promise three or four popular things that his MPs can then repeat over and over and the media machine will hopefully do their thing.

Being in favour of remain, or another referendum is not available for the party, because their membership are mostly in favour of Brexit at whatever cost. And even if it were a viable possibility, it is not the strategy that Johnson has chosen.

Why does he need to call an election? Because he lacks the parliamentary numbers to do anything meaningful, and he needs numbers to force himself through the constitutional roadblock that is Brexit.

Labour on the other hand, can try to use a remain position to win over remainer voters in the Liberal Democrat, SNP and Conservative Parties, but their leader is committed to not being committed to remain. They could endorse Brexit and follow through on the result of the referendum, but the MPs, institutions and membership are opposed to this. As a result they have a confused policy the public do not understand, and alienate voters on both sides of the Brexit divide.

But that was all true in 2015, and the Tories still lost. So what makes this election different to 2017?

There are three things that make this different. First, it is not the same choice as in 2017. We are close to the Brexit deadline, and voters now realise that Brexit is not a done thing. Tensions are higher, and voters are much more motivated by Brexit – this is the last chance both to make it happen and to stop it. This means it will be harder for Corbyn to make this election about the economy, where he had an advantage. It will also be easier for a party with a more coherent Brexit position – likely to be the Conservatives – to make progress.

Second, Johnson himself. Theresa May turned out to be a uniquely bad campaigner, lacking in any kind of positive, coherent vision for the UK. Hers was the worst Conservative Party campaign since the second world war, and possibly before then. Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be a good campaigner – his public appearances he often comes across as uninterested and unmotivated. He is loved by a large minority but not widely liked. But he crucially he is not a control freak. He has brought in Dominic Cummings who crafted a persuasive Brexit message based on what persuaded real voters in focus groups. And Johnson, like Trump, has the ability to jump on what is popular and follow the tide of public opinion. Johnson is not the trendsetter his supporters make him out to be, but he is clever enough to follow through on the opportunities fate makes for him. See, for example, his decision to join in with the leave campaign in the first place.

Third is the wild card of the Lib Dems. They will certainly not return to their pre-2015 levels of votes or seats. But they are an organisation for angry remainers and liberals to put their votes into. They are in a better position than they were in 2017, having a leader who is not at odds with their voters’ and members’ liberal values, and being more renowned now for their Brexit stance. They could win remainer-leaning seats from the Tories, or cause some crucial Labour-Tory marginals to go Tory by winning votes from Labour.

So a majority for Johnson is a distinct possibility. Not guaranteed. But enough to make me worried about my fragile feelings of hope.

The Beast

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From the sooty shanties of Kensington to the overflowing burial mounds of Hyde Park, all one hears of in London today is The Beast. This flesh-eating Lusus Naturae, currently overflowing both the underground network and the world’s oldest functioning sewage system, is even the maxime popularis of tight-lipped respectable ladies in what is left of the city.

The Beast has, I admit, devoured a number of souls that cannot be counted in the mere tens of thousands. The true sum of unfortunate statistics given to its voracious hunger will remain contested for generations, if indeed we survive long enough to gather such information.

But to tell you the truth my dear reader, scandalous as it may seem to our co-competitors at The Guardian; I admire The Beast.

It was not so long ago that I could not think clearly over all that damned noise. The piercing shriek of the snowflake. The blade-in-my-brain of the endless complainers. Escalating by degrees over the years. Increasing in exorbitance of both volume and content.

“Exit Brexit!”

“Trans people are people!” – a tautology if ever I heard one.

“The planet is dying!”

“My toilet has mauve demon fur growing out of it!”

“I can’t breathe, the air makes me nauseous!”

“The Sun. Can you remember what the Sun looked like?”

Et cetera, et cetera. All very loud. All very earnest. All, in an extremely tedious literal sense true – apart from “Exit Brexit” which is a phrase without truth value. But impossible to concentrate around.

Now, as a consequence of The Beast, the complainers are thankfully no longer with us. I can think clearly. My thoughts. Hot, black, heavy, sticky thoughts. The kind that have me afraid of sleep for the things that will wake me. Halting thoughts. Thoughts that make the heart leap and scratch.

But they are my thoughts dear reader. And I can hear them. We have our insatiable friend to thank for this. Those of us who are still alive are undoubtedly better off for its quieting omnipresence.

And so it is with great sadness that I look toward the upcoming democratic ritual. If the polls are to be believed then The Beast is about to lose its majority. The repercussion will either be a hung Parliament or a sickly Corbyn administration. Or both. Dread to think. In any case, the result is sure to put Brexit, now in its forty-seventh year of negotiation, in jeopardy.

I for one do not wish to live to see the outcome.

On Sadness

Right now, as I write this, I am sad. There is moisture in my head. My lips are heavy. If I were to stand a force greater than gravity would make me sit.

We are all sad at different times for different reasons. We are recharging. We are grieving. We are afraid for a future that we cannot predict. We are broken. We are tired. We are stuck. We are at odds with the universe. We are at odds with God. We are at odds with strangers. We are at odds with friends. We are at odds with ourselves. It happens.

Sadness is a lens. It allows you to see what is in front of you. Your father’s frailty was always there. Now it is in focus. Your mother’s concentration as she puts on her glasses to read an email. Your friend’s soft smile as she shuffles a deck of cards. They were there. Now you see them.

Sadness is a glass cage. You observe your own actions as an audience member watching a film. You hear your own voice in conversation. It is hard work. Words come slowly. You miss the connections between things. You are present, but you are not present.

Sadness is a process. Inside the gears are whirring. You will discover things.


Sadness is a veil. The light is there. But it is hidden.

Sadness is fleeting. All things pass.

Sadness is necessary. It holds us back from the things that hurt us.

Sadness is a map. There are paths. There are mountains. There are valleys. There are peoples and prizes. Here be dragons.

Sadness is a web. You are stuck to you. We are all stuck together.

I am sad because I am tired. I am sad because I see jagged machines rising over the horizon. I am sad because I do not understand myself. I am sad because I am not sure if I will make the right decisions.

Sleep on it. See what changes.



Sheilegh had found her. She knew her large nose and thick black eyebrows. She crossed the pond and spoke to the younger woman.

“I’m you from the future! I’m here to save your life!” Sheilegh said.

The younger woman looked at her expectedly. She had to say something good.

“You have ADHD. You can’t change it.”

“… Is that it?”

“No. There’s more.”

Why was she so nonplussed? Sheilegh tried again.

“You can learn any language. You learned English.”


“Knowing this will encourage you to learn.”

“How are you going to save my life though?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I thought you’d be impressed that I had managed to create a working time machine. I needed an opening line.”

“I am impressed. I have dreamed of creating a time machine. As I’m sure you know. But you don’t seem to have anything to say.”

Sheilegh looked around. Nobody seemed to take any notice of them. A gaggle of ducks were arguing. The air was icy.

“Can we go to your place?” Sheilegh asked her younger self, “…I don’t want to mess things up.”

They walked.

“I’m sure the timeline is already distinct from your own original,” the young one said, “But you know that. You’re me.”

“I never could invent a forwards time machine.”

“And even if you could, by coming back you’ve altered your own timeline forever.”

“Yes. It’s not like in fiction. No time loops for me. I mean us. I mean… Whatever. We don’t get to conveniently end where we started.”

“You got anywhere to stay?”

“I was hoping-”

“-that you could move in with me.”

“Yes. I can easily earn money using historical stock market data.”

“And then what?”

“Well there are a few avoidable incidents that I’ll alert you to so they no longer cause lifelong health problems.”

They had reached the younger Sheilegh’s apartment door.

“That’s nice.”

“You know I half expect your apartment to be filled with copies of us. One hypothetical danger of time travel.”

“Yes. What is the probability that you would come back only once?”

“And given that I came back, what were the chances that I’d come back to this universe?”

“You don’t know how to end this dialogue do you?”

“This is clearly fiction, as it could not be real within the parameters established within it.”

“That’s not what a real person would say.”

And then, in a universe-spanning spasm of contrivance, everything exploded.


“I don’t like being a young man” it thought.

But then it wondered. Was it really being a young man that it didn’t like? Or did it dislike the feeling of uncertainty that all decision-making creatures have from time to time?

Perhaps it was decision itself the creature did not like.

“I might have made things worse” the creature thought. It’s neck-hairs bristled. Small white lights shone in the wandering black outside the train window.

It opened up the WordPress app and started to type a half-formed story.